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jueves, 2 de febrero de 2017

Mahoujin - Babylonia Suite (1978)


Vamos con el disco ponja del día en esta semana de saga japonesa. Para todos aquellos que pensaban que conocìan a todas la bandas progresivas japonesas de los 70s, veamos si a ésta la ubican... La preciosa tapa augura un progresivo sinf{onico a lo ELP, en formato trìo bajo - teclado - batería. Especialmente indicado para los amantes del progresivo sinfónico tradicional en un lindo disco que no es ninguna maravilla pero que va a dejar contentos a todos.

Artista: Mahoujin
Álbum: Babylonia Suite
Año: 1978
Género: Progresivo sinfónico
Duración: 36:56
Nacionalidad: Japón


Lista de Temas:
1. Babylonia Suite
- a) Introduction
- b) New Babylonia 1
- c) New Babylonia 2
- d) Last City b. c. 538
- e) epilogue
2. Cariot
3. Tower of Babel
4. Festival

Alineación:
- Shiga Atsushi / keyboards
- Okada Yasushi / bass
- Sugano Shiro / drums




El único álbum de esta banda japonesa, muy influida por ELP (al menos en las claves principales). Al igual que muchas de las primeras bandas progresivas japonesas, solo lanzaron un solo disco completamente instrumental, con un uso intensivo de teclados portentosos.


Trio a lo ELP o Triumvirat con un LP grabado en 1978 llamado "Babylonia Suite". Disco este totalmente indicado para aquellos seguidores de Keith Emerson o Rick Wakeman con todos los ingredientes clásicos de este tipo de eventos.
Poco que añadir en los 36 minutos que dura, si acaso destacar la suite que da título y agregar el uso del mellotrón como diferenciación del sonido del Sr. Emerson, instrumento éste, que nunca utilizó. Evidentemente el trabajo es bastante más normalito y blando de lo que cabría suponer por las referencias citadas.
Rockliquias

Más bien raro, una fiesta de sintetizadores y colchones de teclados, creo que todos los que aman Ars Nova, Tony Banks, Triumvirat y compañía deberán apreciar esta creación.
Aunque en realidad su estilo no tiene nada del toque típico japonés ni con el juego de teclado nervioso y psicótico de sus compatriotas de Ars Nova (imagino que recuerdan a las japonesitas ELP) o Gerard, este álbum no tiene mucho en común con el estilo de dichas bandas auqnue por supuesto que quiere mucho de los músicos, que demuestran sus habilidades, pero afortunadamente esto no quita que dejen la melodìa de lado, aquí la melodía nunca se descuida y las composiciones en sí tienen bastante su atractivo.
Si bien poco se sabe de los miembros de la banda, su baterista Sugano Shiro reaparecería varios años después como miembro del grupo de fusión KBB, pero nada más se sabe sobre el resto de la banda. Pero a pesar de la oscuridad que gira en torno de la banda, su legado como una de las primeras bandas progresistas que emergen de Japón es digno de mención, y por ello lo traemos al blog cabezón para que tenga su lugarcito.


Por cierto, el arte de portada de este álbum es de una pintura de la artista surrealista española Remedios Varo que se llama "Woman Leaving the Psychoanalyst".
Veamos a ver qué es lo que nos cuenta nuestro columnista involuntario de siempre:

Mahoujin fue un power trío progresivo japonés que supuso una voz pionera del sinfonismo dentro de su país. Aunque una lectura de los créditos de los músicos invita fácilmente a imaginar que Mahoujin ejecuta una proyección del esquema sonoro de un ELP, en realidad el tipo de cadencia melódica que predomina en sus composiciones nos recuerda más al sinfonismo espacial de Novalis, la calidez estilizada de un Wakeman y la vibración cándida de un Greenslade.
La suite homónima ocupa la primera mitad del disco, exactamente un espacio de 21 ¼ minutos. El tipo de dinámica sinfónica del grupo se hace patente desde el primer momento con ese liderazgo de capas amables y solos estilizadamente juguetones que exhibe Atsushi, mientras que la dupla rítmica de Yasushi y Shiro se explaya en un swing entusiasta y refinado. Así va el ambiente predominante en la primera sección, hasta que la segunda sección nos muestra al grupo pasando a un ambiente más lento y ceremonioso, con un talante más aproximado al sinfonismo espacial de raigambre germánica (Novalis, Eloy). La tercera sección regresa a la dinámica inicial, la misma que se refuerza con la siguiente, siendo así que Mahoujin parece recrear al mejor Triumvirat pero con una mayor dosis de polenta y una dupla rítmica más explícitamente elaborada. De todas maneras, los solos de sintetizador son más fieles al molde de Wakeman que a los de Emerson o Fritz. El epílogo de la suite consiste en un breve pasaje de piano, melancólico y medianamente parco. ‘Cariot’ da inicio a la segunda mitad del disco con una mezcla efectiva de Wakeman (etapa “World Record”) y el Greenslade más jazzeado. ‘Tower of Babel’ ofrece un mayor ahondamiento en el factor jazzero, siendo así que la dupla rítmica se explaya en una bien hecha emulación del swing de Weather Report, mientras que Atsushi desarrolla capas de teclado que nos pueden muy recordar a Novalis y, por qué no, al Bardens de “Moon Madness”. Se trata de una idea muy interesante pero que se queda a medio desarrollar con sus 3 ½ minutos de espacio: con una mayor extensión y una explicitación más decidida de los teclados (adición de solos y una orquestación
más afanosa), podríamos haber tenido aquí a la gema absoluta del disco. En fina, las cosas son como son y con ‘Festival’ llegamos al final de esta experiencia melómana: se trata de lo más cercano a ELP que el grupo ha creado en este álbum, debido principalmente al manejo pomposo de los fraseos y bases armónica del órgano Hammond, pero el ensamble principalmente sigue coherentemente la línea sinfónica que ya ha marcado el tránsito de todo el repertorio hasta ahora.
“Babylonia Suite” es un buen ítem progresivo sinfónico proveniente de la escena
japonesa de los 70s – sin tratarse de una obra genial, tiene suficiente atractivo melódico como para ser debidamente apreciado por el coleccionista. A fin y al cabo, aquí hay un interesante anticipo del tipo de calidez melódica que 10 años después más o menos hallaremos en discos de Midas, Mugen y Gerard (etapa de cuarteto).
César Inca

Y a pesar de ser un disco prácticamente desconocido, al menos para mí, con sorpresa encuentro muchos comentarios sobre el mismo en la red, y como digo, este es un disco que no disgusta a nadie aunque no sea ninguna maravilla...

This is one of the lesser known Japanese progrock bands. The instrumental keyboard- oriented progrock (synthesizers, piano, organ and delicate Mellotron flights) is a bit similar to bands like Triumvirat (Germany) and Northstar (USA): the sound is tasteful and features not much solowork but remarkable is the very dynamic rhythm-section, especially the bassplayer blew me away.
Erik Neuteboom

This album doesn’t really offer anything new or innovative in the area of symphonic, keyboard-driven progressive music, but it is an interesting period piece from the late seventies when symphonic rock was still being made quite a bit in Japan even though the style was in decline elsewhere. Mahoujin pretty much came and went with this release and didn’t leave too many remains behind besides this record.
My first impression on hearing the opening keyboard strains (Yamaha and mellotron mostly) was that this sounded an awful lot like game soundtrack music, which means there are a lot of polysynth progressions and extended instrumental passages (in fact the whole album is instrumental). One of my kids has informed me that the title track, or at least something sounding a lot like it, was the theme music for one of the Space Quest Roger Wilco games of the late eighties, so there you go.
The music owes a lot to ELP, and pretty much all of the few reviews you can find today for this album note the debt. The album consists of the side-length title track and three shorter but rather similar works, all of them presumably connected thematically (hence the album’s title), although the overall point of the album is somewhat lost on me. The band member’s names are in Japanese so they are difficult to decipher, although a couple web sites have listed them. One is drummer Shiro Sugano who would end up in the fusion band KBB a decade later, but I don’t know what happened to the keyboardists or the very talented bass player.
Other than the ambitious but unexceptional title track, the other mildly interesting number is the short but lively “Tower of Babel” which features heavy bass lines and a fusion-leaning rhythm. The mellotron is prominent here but not very complex, with some flute sounds and otherwise mostly just extended notes from that and the Yamaha.
The cover is a painting from the surrealist and somewhat tragic painter Remedios Varo. It is a tasteful touch but again I’m not clear on the relevance to the theme of the album.
This is a minor symphonic album from a mostly forgotten group who nevertheless are often seen mentioned as an influence in the biographies of later Japanese progressive musicians. The album makes for decent background mood music, but is not something that stands up all that well against the major innovators of this style of prog. I’ll go with three stars largely on the strength of the multilayered keyboards, and also for the bassist who outplays the rest of the group on most of the album. Recommended for people who are looking for something to push out of their speakers while playing RPGs on a dreary Saturday afternoon.
Very little is known about this obscure band. While progressive music was modestly popular in Japan even in the latter 60s (and particularly psychedelic music), few Japanese bands emerged prior to the mid-70s, and by then interest in the genre was temporarily waning throughout Europe and the Americas. Like many early Japanese progressive bands, MAHOUJIN’s single release was completely instrumental, with heavy use of keyboards and synthesized percussion. The album features Hammond, mellotron and moog as well as electric and traditional piano. The band’s sound has been most compared to ELP.
Drummer Shiro Sugano would resurface several years later as a member of the fusion group KBB, but little else is known about the rest of the band. While there has been a small surge in recent years of reissued early Japanese progressive records on CD, many of them remixed and with additional tracks, this very early organic Japanese effort has yet to be targeted for re-release.
MAHOUJIN deserves consideration for inclusion in the progressive archives largely on the strength of their sole studio effort, which combines layered keyboard structures with complex constructions and epic-length compositions. The band appeared only briefly and marked no new ground in progressive music, but their legacy as one of the first progressive bands to emerge from Japan is worth noting.
Bob Moore

Mahoujin was a Japanese power-trio with a keyboard-based framework: now, this may sound as inherently inviting to the development of ELP-ish influences, but the fact is that this trio moved toward a less aggressive direction, more related to Novalis' spacey symphonic prog, Wakeman's stylish pomposity and Greenslade's warmth vibrations, with slight touches of "Spartacus"-era Triumvirat. "Babylonia Suite" is a very pleasant album, dominated by a sense of moderate energy and a delightful colorfulness (which perhaps may sound a bit underdeveloped in places). Obviously, keyboardsman Atsushi is in charge f providing the basic harmonies and dominant melodies, particularly featuring string ensemble and lead synthesizers. Meanwhile, the dynamic rhythmic foundation elaborated by Yasushi and Shiro states a proper balance of rocking sensibility and jazzy swings, in this way enhancing the enthusiastic moods that patently prevail in the repertoire's compositional dimensions. The sidelong namesake suite fills the album's first half in a definite attempt to expose the band's symphonic approach with no strings attached. That's how it goes, as simple as that, with the first section: pleasant melodies, global arrangements delivered in a reasonably constrained fashion, a vibrating rhythmic framework, a politely delivered epic feel. The suite's second section is slower and more ceremonious, providing partially a sense of cosmic mystery not unlike Eloy or Novalis. The third and fourth sections pretty much recreate the first part's mood, even enhancing it to a degree that would have made the guys of Triumvirat a bit jealous, since the overall sonic scheme happens to sound more vital and more technically accomplished. That's something you can easily notice when you pay attention to the jazz-rock-friendly rhythm duo. The suite's epilogue consists of a brief piano solo piece, melancholic and distant at the same time: it is clearly evocative of a memory for something that is long gone. the album's second half kicks off with 'Cariot', with an effective combination of "Criminal Record"- era Wakeman and a jazz-oriented Greenslade, plus some ounces of a guitar-less Camel from the "Moon Madness" days. 'Tower of Babel' gives room for a bigger expansion on the jazz-rock factor, with Yasushi and Shiro stating a Weather Report-like installment while Atsushi indulges in some exciting cosmic layers and phrases (imagine a mixture of Bardens on 'Lunar Sea' and Detlev Schmidtchen on 'Poseidon's Creation'). This track encapsulates a very interesting idea, but its 3 ½ minute span does not allow the ensemble to expand on it toward some sort of climax or powerful culmination. It is such a pity since this piece might as well be the album's apex had it come closer to the amazing grace of SFF's first album or Eloy's 2Ocean". Anyway, things are as they are and there is no way around it. But eventually there is a way around "Babylonia Suite", and that's when 'Festival' arrives to settle in the closure. This is the closest to ELP that Mahoujin ever gets, mostly due to the featured presence of the Hammond organ. But, all in all, this track mainly completes the symphonic vision that the band has delivered all throughout the album. Mahoujin is a name very much worthy of an addition in any symphonic prog lover's collection list, since their sole album "Babylonia Suite" displays a pleasant and melodically pristine exhibition of most of the genre's qualities. The only noticeable flaw is the flat, uneven sound production. The music itself is very good, no doubt about it in my mind - 3⅓ / 5 stars from my part
César Inca

Old, dated, but also nostalgic, perhaps even ancient. Hell, this album must have sound retro even at the time of its release, but this fortunately doesn't prevent me from enjoying it now in 2010/2012. The main track, something like title track (even not literary, as album's title have one more word) is clearly divided into parts, which doesn't exactly fit seamlessly into one another, but are more like divided track. Sound pattern is however clear to follow - and the suite (why didn't they call it like that after all) is simply mind-blowing. The rest of the songs are trying their best, but not many "rest songs" can stand to the epics on albums divided like that. Solid fourtie.
Marty McFly

Before "Gerard", "Ars Nova", DeJa-Vu" and "Social Tension" there was "Mahoujin"(sometimes spelled as "Mahojin") - the first Japanese keyboards-driven symphonic power trio. However "Mahoujin"(oh man, I even don't know how to pronounce this name...) isn't as great as aforementioned formations, it still deserves bigger recognition than it usually receives in prog-rock community. This very obscure band was able to record only one album called "Babylonia Suite" in 1978, and soon after vanished from everybody's radars. Music presented on this disk is usually described as derivative to "Emerson, Lake & Palmer" style of prog, but I can't agree with such description. Of course "ELP"-influences are obvious here, but I can see many more similarities with German trio Triumvirat, especially they mid/late seventies period. One question arises: is it an obscure little gem unjustly forgotten by prog fans? Let's check four instrumental compositions included on the album to find out:
1. "Babylonia Suite" - disk begins with 21 minutes long, multi-part symphonic suite filled with hundreds of different keyboards sounds. Unfortunately this description promises much more than the epic really delivers. There are many problems with "Babylonia Suite" so I'll take note of the major ones. At first, construction of this suite is very patchy. Seems that few short instrumentals were just sticked together in the copy-paste fashion to create "an epic" track. At second, I'm not a big fan of polyphonic synthesizers used on this record, they seem to sound very artificial for me. Of course keyboardist plays also swirling Hammond organ, real Moog, acoustic piano and even one fragment is filled with glorious mellotron layers, but more modern gear often remains dominant. At third, many melodies for this suite were directly stolen from Trumvriat's epic called "The History of Mystery" ("Old Loves Die Hard" album). In general I also have to say that Mahoujin's Shiga Atsushi isn't as skilled as Emerson, Wakeman or Fritz, but he's surely not disastrous. I just have a feeling that he doesn't play as speedy-flashy as prog-rock keyboard wizard should. But don't get me wrong, overall "Babylonia Suite" isn't a total trash. In fact there are enough interesting moments which won't let you fall asleep. Especially bassist's work is tremendous, much louder and precise than for example Greg Lake's style. Okada Yasushi playin' reminds me Atsushi Hasegawa who used to show some great bass guitar skills on Gerard's and Motoi Sakuraba's albums. Sugano Shiro's drum work is also suitable, always dynamic & busy.
2. "Cariot" - I like this one more than the first track. Quite fast organ melodies, floating synthesizers and pulsating bass work seems to be more entertaining than overlong suite with uneven construction. I also like those occasional mellotron-created flute sections. Overall nice composition.
3. "Tower of Babel" - repetitive track with boring poly-synths layers. Sounds almost like Tangerine Dream or J.M. Jarre, but thankfully groovy bass lines and up-beat drums work redeem it a little. Nothing special.
4. "Festival" - the first part of this composition sounds like Eloy-ish space rock. We have some string-machine & mellotron work there, everything quite atmospheric and not bad at all. After that keyboardist switches to his trusty Hammond organ and "Festival" becomes even more beautiful. If not poor production, it could sound really impressive. But anyway it's still my favorite track of the album. It's good when closing number leaves with a good feeling.
To sum up: Mahoujin's only album is a symphonic prog album flawed by many serious issues, however most of Triumvirat/ELP/Trace/UK fans probably will enjoy discovering this music. But it's a pity that sound quality of this LP isn't as good as Mahoujin's European contemporaries (I think guy responsible for the mixing table should be fired for such work!). I recommend this album especially to people who like Japanese keyboard-prog bands: "Gerard", "Social Tension", DeJa-Vu" and "Ars Nova", they will find their roots on "Babylonia Suite" long-play. However Shiga Atsushi style isn't as bombastic/flashy as Toshio Egawa's or Kieko Kumagai's.
Best track: "Festival".
Tomas Z.

"Babylonia Suite" is a single and very short albun of this Japanese trio MAHOUJIN, highly influenced by Symphonic Prog in the style of bands as TRIUNVIRAT (especially in only instrumental themes as the track "Dances on the Volcano" of the disk "Pompeii" and in disks as "Spartacus"). Their themes are quite pleasant of being heard, in spite of the "dejá-vu" sensation that causes in the audience, as it emphasized ClemofNazareth in his review of Friday, May 02, 2008, it doesn't present innovations in relation to the that was already heard in bands that explored the same style of the symphonic prog. In spite of that, I cannot point this work as a mere copy, and I wish to highlight the musician's excellent quality. My rate is 3 stars !!!
Maryes

Mahoujin was quite a discovery for Made in Japan back in the early 90s. Probably the best of their archival finds (another title from this series that we recently featured is Round House). Mahoujin are quite simply an instrumental progressive rock band performed by a keyboard trio. It runs the gamut of similarly minded trios starting with the obvious - ELP - and moving on to Trace, Egg, Triumvirat and even Le Orme. Plenty of polysynths and mellotron to absorb. The music never really takes off, or gets chaotic. However it is highly melodic, and the pace varies enough to hold the attention span in check. I've owned this CD for 20 years, and it's always a good one for a revisit.
RYM lists the group as Mahojin, though the spine of the CD marks it as Mahoujin. Probably another lost in translation situation. As well, the cover scan I've provided comes from RYM, and it's been doctored. The original CD cover is not as colorful - more like a typical medieval European painting which is what the cover emulates.
Tom

Mahoujin was quite a discovery for Made in Japan back in the early 90s. Probably the best of their archival finds (another title from this series that we recently featured is Round House). Mahoujin are quite simply an instrumental progressive rock band performed by a keyboard trio. It runs the gamut of similarly minded trios starting with the obvious - ELP - and moving on to Trace, Egg, Triumvirat and even Le Orme. Plenty of polysynths and mellotron to absorb. The music never really takes off, or gets chaotic. However it is highly melodic, and the pace varies enough to hold the attention span in check. I've owned this CD for 20 years, and it's always a good one for a revisit.
ashratom

Muddy recording quality aside, the music here is superbly composed, highly intricate, all instrumental symphonic progressive in a lush, keyboard rich late 70's vein.
Zaragon



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